It was a hectic morning. I was rushing around the house trying to get ready to go to a recording studio to do some translation voice-overs for an online course. School was canceled due to another Covid-19 scare, so we were all trying our best to stay committed to our morning routine while dealing with the rambunctious antics of a 4.5 year old (our daughter, Maya.)
Prior to this, I had managed to squeeze in my morning beach walk and meditation session, where I once again reminded myself to be patient, loving and present with my loved ones. I had no idea how much I was going to be tested on this resolve today!
As I was about to run out of the house, juggling my laptop, purse and cup of honey-lemon tea, I heard a duo of high-pitched voices coming from Maya’s room, so I popped my head in to see what the ongoing commotion was all about. Our nanny, Geeta, was asking Maya to pick up all the items of a drawer she had just emptied on the floor. Maya was not obeying the instructions and instead sat defiantly on her bed, scribbling away on her coloring book.
This was certainly not the first time this happened, as Maya had been going through a rebellious streak for the last few months and truly testing the limits of our patience and her will. We had tried every way we could think of to discipline and instill the value of respect in her, all to no avail. When we asked her to do anything: eat a meal, shower, dress up, brush her teeth, turn off the TV or stop dangerous goofing around, she resisted time and again by either completely ignoring us or turning it into a game of “catch me if you can.” Parenting is not an easy gig, am I right?
I suppose genes are somewhat to blame. Maya comes from a line of rebellious, strong-minded free spirits, like myself. Although I had a different type of upbringing that truly suppressed a free-thinking mind (growing up in a communist country), I clearly remember wanting to challenge authority from a young age, and craving freedom as my main priority in life. In fact, I am such a rebel at heart, that I won’t take orders from anyone, not even from myself! Even if I tell myself that “I must exercise and meditate every day,” I will find a way to break that promise, because no one can tell me what to do! How’s that for a strong will?
It is then no surprise to me when I see Maya disobeying every one of our requests. I realize her soul will not bend to someone else’s command. She is confident, determined and willful and those are great qualities to have, albeit being tough for parents to handle.
Back to the story.
I was rushing and feeling impatient to make it to work on time, so I went for the usual approach.
Me: “Maya, pick up everything you threw on the floor and put it back in the drawer. Now please.”
Maya: “I don’t want to! Let someone else do it!”
Me: “You are the one who made this mess, so you are the one who has to clean it up!”
Maya: “I don’t know how to do it – this is too hard, and too many things to pick up! I don’t want to!”
Time and patience were running low, so I went for the usual bargaining (read: threatening) tactic of taking away things she wanted.
Me: “If you don’t pick this up, your Christmas presents will go to someone else! Do you want to get your presents? If so, you better listen to what we ask and do it.”
Maya (getting enraged): “NO! You can’t do that! I want my presents!!!”
And so, it went back and forth for 10 minutes. Getting my husband Dean involved, it came to a point where he actually had to take the presents that were hidden in the closet and bring them outside the house to make a point. There were tears, pleads and screaming. Yet there was still no action on Maya’s part to clean up her mess. She insolently sat on the floor, her arms crossed, with a look of determined protest on her face. I was at my wits end!
I went to another room to get a moment of silence and to process what was happening. I was confused, sad and desperate. I wanted so badly to teach her this lesson of responsibility and consequences of her actions, but my intuition was telling me this was not the right way. Not only did I feel in my heart that this was the wrong approach, but the reality was also clear – this approach doesn’t work! No matter how many times we threatened to take away toys, TV, or time with friends, she kept repeating the same behavior as though she didn’t understand the effect that her actions caused.
After a bit of stillness and consciously tuning into my “being” – the place I go to when I need guidance, take a decision or make sense of a difficult situation – I understood that I couldn’t force Maya to do anything. No matter how bad the consequences would be or even how great the reward would be, the outcome was always the same – she wouldn’t succumb to anyone’s will. I realized that due to her free-spirited personality, she needed a different incentive – one that would come from her own choice, on her own terms.
I went back to her room bearing a much more positive disposition towards her - that of understanding and cooperation. I approached her gently and amiably.
“My love, I know you are a good girl. And I know that you can do anything that you set your mind on. Good girls always clean up their own mess, so why don’t you show me how you can do that.”
I picked up one item off the floor and put it in the drawer to set an example.
“See how easy it is! That’s one…now let me see you do two and count until ten to put all of these things in the drawer.”
To my pleasant surprise Maya got the idea immediately and enthusiastically launched into a game of “pick up and count.” She counted out loud as she placed the items in the drawer and did it with a big smile on her face!
I was impressed. Not only with Maya but with my own ability to get her to do what I asked so easily, which I didn’t know I could do before! Could it be that simple? Would this approach always work? I needed to process what had just happened and understand which lessons can be learned from this situation.
We hugged and made up, and Maya was assured that her presents were safe. I headed for the front door but something made me pause on the way out of the house. As I looked at the kitchen while passing by, I noticed a huge mess on the counter from my rushed breakfast. I had assumed that someone was going to clean up after me and left the half-eaten bowl of buckwheat, fruit peel, box of soy milk and used tissues where I ate.
“Did I just do the exact same thing that I reprimanded Maya for?” I thought to myself.
Kids are insightful and more cognizant than we give them credit for. They don’t do what we say. They do what we do. They copy our behavior, speech, and even the energy we carry.
That’s why it’s so important for us, as caretakers, to be vigilant with our thoughts, words and actions – it all rubs off on our kids. With my own misguided assumptions and behavior, I inadvertently became the example of a slob who expects someone else to clean up her mess.
Big time reality check!
I hastily cleared the dishes, put the leftovers in the fridge, and wiped down the counter. Then I went back to Maya’s room to thank her for reminding me to always clean up after myself. She seemed very proud to have been part of my “schooling” and gave me spirited high five!
On the drive to work, I ran the whole scenario over in my mind and some insights revealed themselves to me. Here are the five key take-aways about what our children teach us:
- Our thoughts, words and actions reflect who we are
Everything we think, say and do, as well as the energetic state we are in is felt by everyone who interacts with us, even if they are not in the same physical space. By aligning our thoughts, words and actions we are tapping into our true essence that everyone around us can “sense.” When we are aligned, we are our most authentic selves, and others perceive us as such. This coherence of the energy that we emit makes up every atom of the physical body and that becomes the true reflection of our internal state.
When I was on Maya’s case about her messiness, there’s a great chance she could tell I wasn’t speaking my truth about being organized – the words I used were not aligned to my own thoughts and actions. I was not being my authentic self, and perhaps Maya could tell on a subconscious level. That’s why it’s so important for us to practice what we preach if we want anyone to take us seriously.
- What bothers us most in others, is what we need to work on most in ourselves
It can be a bitter pill to swallow, but what we find most annoying and disappointing in others could very likely be what we don’t like to see in ourselves. Next time you feel the need to judge someone’s behavior, check in with yourself and analyze why this is so. Could it be that you hated this trait in yourself at some point and you forced yourself to change? Or is it some quality of your character that is so obvious in others, but not so obvious in yourself? Perhaps you’ve resisted that quality and forced yourself to act differently but deep down you “know” that you still have it.
I was bothered by Maya’s messiness and lack of responsibility, because that is something I’ve been working hard at improving in myself most of my life. And before I can ask Maya to be better, I need to show up as the best version of myself in everything I do.
- The energy you give out is the energy that you receive back
As I proposed in the first point, the energy that makes up our cells based on our mental/emotional state is that which will inevitably be returned to us from the outside. The study of quantum physics and new biology have already confirmed this phenomenon using science and technology. When you send out positive thoughts and good intentions, you get positive circumstances and relationships back. On the other hand, when you are thinking negative thoughts and vibrate at the level of fear, animosity, impatience or jealousy, you attract unfavorable situations and relationships in your life.
When I approached Maya with a resistant energetic vibration, I was met with resistance back from her, because she “felt” my energy as that. When I switched to a more loving vibration, she met me half-way with the same positive cooperative energy.
This was another great reminder for me to always keep my vibration on the level of love, gratitude, acceptance and faith. It just makes everything better!
- Your intuition about how to handle conflicts is never wrong
As a parent, your intuition is sometimes the only guiding force you have to rely on when everything else you’ve tried fails. And most of the time that inner voice that whispers in your heart is not wrong – listen to it. When you take a moment to breathe and find your center you suddenly become present – and that’s where the magic happens! That’s when the noise of your ego quiets down just long enough for you to “hear” the message of your inner guide. In that present moment you will intuitively know the right thing to say and the right next step. We all have this ability, so don’t think it’s reserved for those with special gifts.
Next time you have a confrontation or you are faced with a dilemma, close your eyes, take a few conscious breaths, and feel the space around your heart. The answer will be revealed to you immediately. But don’t just take my word for it – go ahead and try it out for yourself!
- Whatever you choose to fight or resist will endure and get stronger
Lastly, this insight can be applied to almost anything. As the age-old saying goes, “What we resist always persists.” You can’t fight hate with hate, the same way you can’t fight the darkness with more darkness. To paraphrase my favorite spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, when we shine the light of our consciousness, the darkness dissipates on its own without any force. That’s why when you try to coerce someone into doing or believing something, you won’t be successful. Instead, you can lead by example and show the way with your own actions.
The moment I showed Maya how easy and fun it can be to pick up and put away things from the floor, she followed right along, no force needed. Try this in your own life with anything you may be resisting, and approach it with light and acceptance. Works like magic!
Once again, parenthood proved to be a tough teacher, but one that I am so grateful to have in my life. Our kids are our best teachers, if we stay present with them and don’t diminish their capacity to educate us. They can teach us patience, cooperation, self-awareness, compassion and so much more.
As we continue to be tested on these lessons and new ones that will inevitably turn up, we are growing up and evolving into better version of ourselves. And that is a great reminder for why we became parents in the first place!